New road hazards that we have discovered here:
Flat tire number one: Nails. Giant frigging nails that rip tires. Not polite little finishing brads that give you a slow leak you can drive on to the next gas station. Oh, no. Four inches of steel bent into an angry V and still sharp on the business end. Flat in fifteen seconds.
About half of Austin is under construction at any given time, so this sort of construction debris is all over the place. The well-advised driver never, ever drives down the shoulder of the road. Stay on the smooth pavement, where at least you can see the hazards coming. Somehow, it still got me. I should have seen it. I mean, it was larger than a chipmunk, ferchrissake, and slower. It was just lying there as dead as a, well, doornail. I shouldn't have hit it, but it was dark. Grumble. The original equipment tire on the car has only 10K miles on it, but it's shot. Buy a new tire.
Flat tire number two: A ladder. A piece of a step from an aluminium stepladder. The memento that we got was about 5/8" wide and two inches long. Made a helluva gash in the tire. Could not hold air for more than ten or twenty seconds.
Fortunately, it's the same tire. And, more fortunately, Ms. T., always the clever child, bought the road hazard insurance on the first new tire for eight bucks. Less than 2000 miles later, that bet pays off twelve to one. Okaaaaay.
I can't help thinking about the poor guys ahead of me who hit the larger pieces of the ladder. How many times did it have to be run over to reduce it to the small piece that ate my car? Did the first five cars or trucks to hit it lose their transmissions or oil pans instead of just a tire? We saw some debris on the interstate where we think we picked it up. How many more cars were disabled by whatever other incidents that week?
Digression: so we call AAA to change the tire. (Yes, lazy. It is raining and it is 11 PM and we have just come from the theater so we're dressed half-decently. . . .) We're about ten miles north of downtown Austin, but still well within the city. The AAA operator dispatches a truck from Killeen, TX, which is seventy-five count 'em seventy-five miles north of our breakdown spot. Hey, so what's a few miles between friends? Takes him an hour and a half to arrive, that's what. And this is a school night; some of us have to be at work in the morning. Grumble. The driver is puzzled. We are puzzled, too, and about half furious at this stupidity. Next morning, Ms. T. calls AAA to complain bitterly about this treatment. Surely your rules can't be this stupid. No, they're not. The operator is a dolt, has been reprimanded. (In truth, it was something like the guy in Austin didn't want to go out in the rain.) Only a hundred-something miles difference. No wonder the fees go up.
Road hazard number three: Mud. Not the way you're thinking. No, much trickier. On the way home one night, I paused to let into traffic an SUV that had just pulled out of a field, a construction site, I think, on the left side of the road. The driver waved politely. End of interaction. When the light changed, we both started to move. As he pulled ahead, I was assaulted with a barrage of mud clods, marble-size blobs of wet mud and grass. Like a dozen kids were pelting the car with a hail of mudballs (instead of snowballs). Yuck. I could barely see through the windshield. I ran the wipers and spent half the reservoir of wiper fluid to clean off the crud. When I got home, the entire front of my (white, incidentally) car looked as though it had been driven through a wet adobe wall. Took a lot of washing to get it all off.
Short aside: when I say mud here, I don't mean some benign, light-brown, gritty soup. Oh, no. Austin mud is different: thick, hard clay, like soft rock when it's wet and hard rock when it's not. For instance, if you dig in the garden and forget to clean off your shovels and claws, you will find blobs of brick-like substance fused to the metal. You cannot just push it off or scrape it off like normal dirt, no no no, you soak the tool first, and then you can scrape the crud. A mistake you won't make twice. So imagine what this is like to get off the bright white paint job of a new car. Wet, soap, scrub, rinse, wet soap scrub rinse, wetsoapscrubrinse, wetsoapscrubrinse. I think I poured eight dollars of quarters into the u-do-it car wash. And my arms hurt. End of aside.
Let this be a lesson. No good deed goes unpunished. Let a car into traffic in front of you, and beware what he will leave in his wake that you might have to drive through. I knew about the traditional hazards of filthy diesel exhaust behind any truck or Mercedes or Jetta, oil-smoke exhaust behind any clunker, windshield-cracking stones behind gravel trucks. This is a new one.
Copyright (C) 2000, 2001, 2002, Richard Ball Landau. All rights reserved.